#Travel: How I made 168 friends at an Animal Orphanage

PHOTO: Susan Wong at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club / Courtesy 2018

During my most recent visit to Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, I became a different type of friend.

No, I don’t mean a cheerleader that provides moral support for someone, or a leech that drains an individual of their energy, or a flake that always finds a way to escape, or even a kindred spirit that always provides emotional, spiritual or moral support to their friends.

I became a “Green Friend” of the Animal Orphanage at Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, which was located at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club Resort nestled at the foot of the majestic Mount Kenya.

Once the retreat of Hollywood movie star and Club founder, William Holden, the luxurious Nanyuki resort that straddles the equator has since emerged in the ‘World’s Top 50’ List of Travel & Leisure Magazine several times.

Set in over 100 acres of landscaped gardens, a visit to the resort often includes a lot of adventure such as mountain biking in the wilderness of the Conservancy, and close encounters with some of the residents of the Animal Orphanage.

PHOTO: Susan Wong visits Animal Orphanage / Courtesy 2018


Currently, with 168 animals calling the orphanage home, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make a new friend.

A short walk from the Resort’s reception, visitors will find the entrance to the Animal Orphanage. First, a stroll through an organic vegetable garden that only grows produce for the animals will welcome you. Paths of red earth intersect tidy beds and vegetables, and a poignant sign that reminds you to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” marks the path where the small garden opens-up to a wider fenced area.

Here, we meet Paka, Baraka and Gatuzi – African Lynxs that were abandoned as cubs in Samburu. Long-term resident Patricia, a 25-year-old ostrich, hobbles closer – her movement compromised thanks to a dislocated right foot where her bones have now fused together. If Patricia was in the wild, without the ability to run and flee from danger, she would not be able to stand a chance.

An older Mountain Bongo resting on some hay in the corner raises her gaze to meet mine. Elizabeth, one of the oldest Mountain Bongos at the Orphanage and a descendant of the Mountain Bongos that were repatriated from American zoos in an effort to jump-start a breeding program, calls this her permanent home. With just approximately 100 left in the wild in Kenya, the Mountain Bongo is critically endangered, a species facing an extremely high risk of extinction.

A young four-day-old Mountain Bongo calf hides behind its mother deep in their paddock. Yet to be named, this graceful animal is shy and reclusive. The young calf already sports a beautiful red and chestnut glossy coat, narrow white stripes line its shoulders, and round kind eyes captivate you.

Some of the animals at the Orphanage roam free such as the Lammas, descendants from the original ones brought to Kenya by William Holden from Peru. Speedy Gonzalez, a Giant Tortoise that’s over 100-years-old and was the movie star’s personal pet, still loses any sprint but will eagerly snap fresh cabbage from your hands with lightning precision. Be careful of your fingers!

PHOTO: Susan Wong visits Animal Orphanage / Courtesy 2018

The loving couple, Romeo and Juliet, Porcupines that were found digging people’s potatoes, rest in their muddy paddocks. While Yusra, a Patas Monkey found being smuggled at Mombasa International Airport makes friends with its neighbor Mukono, who has an amputated arm from being trapped in a snare, close by.

My tour, which was guided by Eric Mwende, a Wildlife Officer at the Animal Orphanage, lasted more than two hours. At first, I thought I wouldn’t need a tour guide per se since there were signs describing the species of the animals, and that this was my fifth visit. I thought it was only going to be an educative experience. But, I soon realized, if given the opportunity to, Eric would be able to share every single detail of the current animal residents; from their names, to what happened to them, to their age, and how or when they’d be released into the wild. He knew every single story, just like a true friend would.

I left the Orphanage feeling inspired by Eric’s and the Resort’s commitment to wildlife, and that’s how I became a Green Friend to 168 animals.

PHOTO: Newborn Mountain Bongo at Animal Orphanage / Courtesy 2018


The Animal Orphanage works in wildlife rehabilitation, animal rescue, and also education. On your next visit to the Resort, making time to visit the Animal Orphanage is a must!

Proceeds from donations directly benefit the Conservancy’s goals, and aids ongoing projects.

If you’d like to help, click here.



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